November light rail vote will have few specifics
Hillsborough County voters will be asked to increase their sales tax in November by 1-cent on the dollar to pay for light rail without knowing specific routes and how much the first project would cost.
HART officials said Monday they won't select specific light rail routes before the Nov. 2 vote, saying they need more time to develop their proposal for federal matching funds. Officials will choose from one of three north-south and one of two east-west routes.
The change in timing from two weeks ago for route selection could have a profound impact on voter support, some proponents say.
"It's hard to lobby when you don't know the costs, the funding and you are not sure about the (route)
alignment," said Hillsborough County Commissioner Rose Ferlita, a HART board member and backer of the sales tax increase.
But Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, the county's leading proponent for light rail said she was not concerned about the impact of HART's decision on the political debate of supporting transit.
"What we are asking the voters to approve is the concept of a modern transit system to be built over the course of 30 years and beyond," Iorio said.
"Some who are against the referendum will use any issue as a negative. But if they truly looked at this issue and what historically has been done in like communities they wouldn't see this as an issue at all.
Iorio pointed to Phoenix and Charlotte, N.C., as communities that voted for local funding based on conceptual plans with the understanding that exact routes and station locations would be based on their future input.
"That is a point that is often missed -- exact routes will be determined by technical analysis and public input," Iorio said. "In my many speeches and Q and A's on this subject, I don't believe the public expects that level of detail at this stage and it should have no effect on the referendum."
"It is important that the exact alignments be based on numbers - not politics and that is what this process is all about."
Voters need to allow the experts time to complete this study, and the rail routes have been narrowed down to a few clear choices already, said David Singer of Moving Hillsborough Forward, which has raised about $1 million to campaign for passage of the sales tax referendum.
"It's more crucial that we get this right, rather than get this quickly," Singer said. "There's only one advantage to being the last major metropolitan area in the country to move forward with investing in our future: We benefit from lessons learned in other regions. This process takes time and careful consideration."
HART chief executive David Armijo said Monday it might still be possible to squeeze out a decision before the referendum, but a better strategy would be to ensure getting the latest and most valid projections for proposed costs and ridership.
"We need to be sure all the figures we present the federal government are as good as they can be," he said.
Armijo said voter support of the sales tax increase would depend on the public's response to HART's public outreach. Money from the increase would also go to bus and road projects.
HART has slowed down its plans because of needs to further assess the impact of extending the westbound route to Tampa International Airport and the northeast route to Cross Creek.
However, Armijo said HART could pay for and build the airport to downtown route first by using the money raised by the sales tax increase and use that project to leverage federal funds for the northeast corridor.
That would enable HART's first light rail line to become operational as soon as 2016, serving as a connection to Tampa's high-speed rail two years sooner than projected, he said.
Ron Rotella, executive director of the Westshore Alliance, a group of businesses near an expected light rail route, said he was surprised by HART's change of plans from as recently as two weeks ago on route selection.
"The more we tell people before they vote the more informed they will be," Rotella said.
HART and its consultant Parsons Brinckerhoff released on Monday preliminary details comparing three alternative routes between the northeast and downtown and two between downtown and the airport.
The report, which did not account for the impact of the high-speed rail station on demand for light rail connections, projects that by 2035:
• 16,500 daily riders will take light rail on a northeast route along Interstate-275, compared with 16,750 on a route along 30th street, 22nd street and a CSX freight corridor, and 19,500 along 30th street and the CSX corridor.
• 6,250 daily passengers will take light rail between the airport and downtown if the route runs along the northern edge of I-275, compared with 4,250 daily passengers if the route runs along Cypress Street.
• 1,000 to 2,500 more passengers will take light rail than a bus rapid transit alternative, and those numbers are expected to increase in favor of light rail once more study is completed, Armijo said. Bus rapid transit uses designated lanes and traffic light changing equipment for speedier service.
Light rail would cost between $1.3 billion and $1.5 billion to build and equip the northeast corridor and between $475 million and $725 million for the west corridor.
Operating time during peak hour in 2035 on the I-275 airport run would take 21 minutes -- three minutes slower than auto -- with nine stations on the route.
Trains would take 52 minutes from downtown to Cross Creek, a corridor that would have 19 light rail stations. It would be 10 minutes quicker than auto during peak traffic times.
Planners and consultants have emphasized that the federal government is increasingly focused on economic development and environmental factors beyond simple travel time comparisons to determine the merits of competing funding proposals from different cities.
More definitive comparisons, however, would only come if voters approve the sales tax increase.
"This becomes a circular argument," Iorio said. "Without the passage of the referendum, you will never get to the point of specifics because without local funding the â?¦ analysis will come to a halt."
©2010 Media General Communications Holdings, LLC.
Back to Tampa Tribune Page. . .
Back to Home Page. . .